Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Martinsville Chaos Can’t Stop Christian Eckes’ Short Track Dominance

In a Nutshell

If it weren’t for the fact that he needed to make a pit stop to make it the entire distance on fuel, Christian Eckes could have very likely led wire-to-wire in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Friday (April 5).

Eckes won his second race of the season at Martinsville, his first having come on another short track in Bristol Motor Speedway. Eckes took the lead from polesitter Ty Majeski on lap 1, sweeping the stages and leading the most laps en route to the win.

See also
Christian Eckes Dominates, Wins Martinsville Truck Race

Majeski finished second after leading 66 laps. Chase Purdy had one of the best runs of his career, finishing third. Nick Sanchez and Tyler Ankrum rounded out the top five. Sanchez led one lap, the only other driver besides Eckes and Majeski to do so.

The Top Truckers at Martinsville Speedway

Winner, Stage Sweep, Most Laps Led (133 of 200 laps): Christian Eckes
Polesitter: Ty Majeski
Rookie of the Race: Sammy Smith

Top Storylines of the Race

  • Blake Lothian found issues before the green flag even flew. A problem under the hood of his No. 20, a second Young’s Motorsports truck, caused NASCAR to extend the pace laps to check for reported fluid. Lothian started the race, but found himself behind the wall early on en route to a last-place finish.
  • Repco Supercars Championship driver Cam Waters made his NASCAR debut in this race, driving ThorSport’s fifth part-time No. 66 truck, shared by Conner Jones and, eventually, Luke Fenhaus. It was originally thought to be a one-off start, but FOX Sports 1 revealed during its race broadcast that Waters will also drive the No. 66 at Kansas Speedway on May 4 (Jones is contesting the fall race on Sept. 27). Waters finished 30th at Martinsville after getting caught up in a late-race crash.
  • A good night turned sour early for rookie Layne Riggs. He started a career-best third, and finished there as well in stage one. However, a slow pit stop and potential issue with the jack put him back in the pack to start stage two. Riggs was then spun twice over the course of stage two, continuously setting him back. He was then spun a third time with only a handful of laps to go. To finish 15th is honestly nothing short of a miracle for the No. 38 team.
  • Kaden Honeycutt and his crew chief, Phil Gould, were called to the NASCAR hauler following the race. Honeycutt had been running in the top 10 for most of the evening before a late spin. He then brought out another caution by spinning Bret Holmes and Justin Carroll, which is when NASCAR sent the mandatory invite to the No. 45 crew. Honeycutt still rebounded to finish ninth.

The Winning Move

As I mentioned earlier, Eckes could have led wire-to-wire if the fuel window let him. However he ended up pitting at the end of stage two, which handed the lead to Majeski. Majeski controlled most of the final stage until cautions started breeding cautions, allowing Eckes to slowly close the gap.

Eckes and Majeski found themselves restarting either side-by-side or nose-to-tail for the final few restarts, with Eckes pulling away each time. But it wasn’t for lack of effort on Majeski’s part, as the two made quite a bit of contact in the closing laps before Eckes finally sealed the deal.

Championship Rundown

Eckes becomes the first repeat winner of 2024, meaning no one new locks into the playoffs. Sanchez, Eckes, Corey Heim and Rajah Caruth remain locked in with 10 races before the playoffs begin. However, Majeski and Ankrum are over a full race-and-a-half above the cutline on points, as they’ve built a good cushion for end of spring and into the summer.

The point standings themselves have once again shifted, however. Majeski holds a mere seven-point lead over both Heim and Ankrum for the regular-season championship. Eckes then trails those three, just another four points behind the Heim and Ankrum and 11 behind Majeski.

At the cutline, Ben Rhodes sits 10th with a six-point margin over Tanner Gray. He’s just six points behind Enfinger in ninth, so it’s anyone’s guess the way the bottom half of the top 10 shakes out.

Again, there are 10 races left, so literally anything can happen. But barring anything incredibly crazy, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. Slowly, but surely.

Rookie Report

Despite being in the midst of his second full-time season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Sammy Smith made just his second career Truck Series start, and his first of four scheduled for 2024 with Spire Motorsports.

Despite tangling with drivers throughout the night (he was responsible for Riggs’ first spin), Smith rebounded smoothly, hanging on to finish an impressive eighth to earn Rookie of the Race in a series that’s a step down from where he is now.

No. 1 – William Sawalich (26th)
No. 7 – Sammy Smith (eighth)
No. 20 – Blake Lothian (34th)
No. 22 – Stephen Mallozzi (28th)
No. 38 – Layne Riggs (15th)
No. 46 – Thad Moffitt (27th)
No. 66 – Cam Waters (30th)
No. 90 – Justin Carroll (32nd)

Conner Jones Update: Martinsville marks his third of nine scheduled races he will miss in his Rookie of the Year quest. Even if he wanted to race this week, his ride was occupied by Waters. Jones will return to the seat next week at Texas Motor Speedway.

One Big Takeaway From This Race

Is it too early to say that Eckes is the championship favorite?

I’m not just saying this because he’s the first multi-race winner in 2024. But Eckes has won both of the short tracks so far this season. In 2023, he ended by winning at Phoenix Raceway, a short track, and dominating Bristol in the fall before losing the race to Heim. It doesn’t get talked about enough, if at all, but if Eckes wins that Bristol race, he would’ve been the 2023 champion since he won at Phoenix.

Eckes has a knack for short-track racing, it seems, and that could benefit him come playoff time.

The 2024 Truck Series playoffs features four tracks of one mile in length or less. The Round of 10 opens at the Milwaukee Mile before heading to Bristol, the same track Eckes won at a few weeks back and missed out on the win last fall. The Round of 8 concludes at Martinsville … you know, the same track Eckes just won at.

Then of course, the season concludes at Phoenix, where Eckes won last year and arguably should have won the title. Eckes and his McAnally-Hilgemann Racing team are likely out for vengeance in 2024 after the way last season ended.

It’s clear the short-track program for Eckes is top-notch. And really, in the grand scheme of the season, that’s all they need to get Eckes through to the championship race.

It’s not unreasonable to say the championship will run through the No. 19 team this season, and it will likely be difficult to stop them.

See also
Kaden Honeycutt Scores Top 10 After Roller Coaster Night at Martinsville

Talkin’ Truckers

Eckes’ team MHR celebrates the win:

A rarely-irate Timmy Hill was unhappy with the way Stewart Friesen raced him at the end of the race. Hill later said that there were several people he lost respect for following the race, not just Friesen.

”There’s probably about five or six of them that’ll [also] be at the trailer.” – Honeycutt discusses why he might be called to the trailer and why others should be joining him.

”I don’t know where we finished, but we didn’t deserve to finish much better than we were.” – Enfinger had a rough night en route to a poor finish:

Carroll, Sanchez, Majeski, Dean Thompson and Bayley Currey give their opinions on the racing, with Currey in particular saying that maybe someone needs punched in the mouth to fix the poor racing:

Waters reflects on his Truck Series debut, and despite FS1 reporting his next start at Kansas, it seems like he has only committed to this race.

Paint Scheme of the Race

It may not be throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway, but Enfinger and CR7 Motorsports don’t seem to care one bit with the paint scheme they rolled off the hauler.

Enfinger, CR7 and sponsor Grant County Mulch teamed up to run a special throwback scheme to short track legend Bobby Gill, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

The team abandoned its bright yellow and black No. 9 for a jet-black scheme with a yellow number and green and yellow paint sprinkled throughout, modeled after Gill’s No. 5 that he ran throughout the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series (now known as the zMAX CARS Tour).

CR7 team owner Codie Rohrbaugh has a personal friendship with Gill, which further motivated the paint scheme to come together.

Gill, a 2024 inductee to the Florida Short Track Racing Hall of Fame, is a four-time Pro Cup champion, including three consecutive championships from 1999-2001 before adding his fourth in 2007.

Coincidentally, Gill has a tie to the Truck Series, making 16 Truck Series in 1996 and 2000. He scored four top 10s with a best finish of sixth at the Milwaukee Mile in 1996.

Next Stop

Back to the Lone Star State.

The Craftsman Truck Series returns to Texas Motor Speedway for its annual visit to Fort Worth on Friday, April 12. Carson Hocevar won last year’s event in a wild finish, capturing his first Truck Series win. As he is now a Cup Series driver with no plans to race in the Truck Series this season, he will not be able to defend his win.

Coverage for the SpeedyCash.com 250 at Texas Motor Speedway will begin at approximately 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday, April 12. FOX Sports 1 will once again carry the television broadcast. Motor Racing Network will have the radio broadcast, continuing its season-long radio coverage of the Truck Series.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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DoninAjax

NINETY-TWO laps out of 200 under caution!

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